This year’s NBA Playoffs have been a tale of two conferences. The Cleveland Cavaliers faced little resistance in the East on the way to LeBron James’ sixth consecutive NBA Finals appearance. Tyronn Lue became the first head coach to win his first 10 playoff games, and in doing so, his team swept both the Detroit Pistons and the Atlanta Hawks. The Toronto Raptors had their best season in franchise history, and managed to take two games from the Cavs, but got smoked on the road, losing three games by a combined 88 points, and were blown out once again in an anticlimactic game 6.
On the other side, the West became a slugfest. The Portland Trail Blazers took advantage of injuries to Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Stephen Curry to cap off an incredible season with a trip to the conference semifinals and an incredibly tight five-game series with the defending champs. However, the biggest surprise of the postseason so far is the Oklahoma City Thunder, who spoiled the highly-anticipated Golden State Warriors-San Antonio Spurs series by taking down the 67-win Spurs in six games, including two road wins against the Spurs, who tied an NBA record by only losing once at home in the regular season. The Thunder than nearly pulled off a second improbable upset by taking a 3-1 lead against the Warriors, before losing three straight contested games capping off one of the best series of all-time. This leaves us with a rematch of last year’s finals, where the Warriors captured the title 4-2.
To say there’s a lot riding on the NBA Finals this year is an understatement. For the Warriors, their NBA record 73-win regular season doesn’t mean near as much if they don’t repeat as champions. However, far more pressure rides on the Cavaliers, as LeBron will have his third attempt to lead the Cavaliers to the city of Cleveland’s first professional sports championship in over half a century.
Luckily for Cleveland, this is the best Cavaliers team to make it to the finals. The trio of James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love has really come together this postseason, and their confidence and support of each other seems to be at its highest. Additionally, this team has been absolutely shooting the lights out during the playoffs. Their 14.4 made three pointers per game so far is easily the highest of all-time, next best being, funny enough, this year’s Warriors, with 12.5 threes a game. In fact, expect a lot of points this series, as these teams have led the league in points and assists during the playoffs.
Here are my three keys to the series:
- Three Point Shooting: as I just mentioned, both of these teams love to shoot the three, and have been lethal during the playoffs. If the Splash Bros catch fire, the Warriors will be nearly unstoppable. Similarly, if guys like Kevin Love and J.R. Smith can get into a rhythm, they can throw up a lot of points in a heartbeat. Whichever team can guard the perimeter and force the opponent to either settle for poor three point attempts or work it inside will have the advantage.
- Rebounding: The Warriors really struggle with the height of the Thunder, allowing far too many offensive rebounds to the likes of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. Even Russell Westbrook was able to use his speed and athleticism to collect several boards. If the Cavaliers can dominate the glass, and get some easy second chance points, it could prove to be the difference-maker. Tristan Thompson, who’s been quiet this postseason, will need a huge series.
- Bench Scoring: This is where the Warriors really shine. Yes, they have Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green leading the scariest lineup in basketball. But it’s the role players that come off the bench and give relief which really make the team special. Players like Andre Iguodala, Marreese Speights, Shaun Livingston, and others have the capability of going on runs and even outscoring the starters of opposing teams at times. The Cavaliers are not nearly as deep, but their role players will need to provide big minutes.
So what’s the call? The Cavaliers have been dominant, making the East look like a walk in the park. However, the Warriors are more battle-tested, and have a far better overall team. Everyone had to step up in the absence of Stephen Curry for most of their first two series’, and their recent comeback from down 3-1 against the Thunder will have their confidence high. In the end, I think the teamwork of Golden State will prove too much, and the Warriors repeat as champions. The Cavaliers will put up a strong fight, but I don’t see them taking a game at Oracle Arena, while the Warriors will get hot in either game 3 or 4 to take a commanding lead.
Warriors in 5.